Acronyms make things fun. And things which are fun and useful? Those are the best. When it comes to building your minimum viable network, there is only one acronym that matters: A.B.C.
What do those letters stand for? Simple: always be collaborating.
One of the most cross-cutting things I’ve learned from being at the intersection of music and tech is that some of the things which allow artists to amass huge, rabid followings is how they work off one another. There’s a similar symbiosis that is applicable not only to startups trying to grow their own communities, but also to individuals looking to build out a minimum viable network of supportive and engaged people.
Obligatory Musical Collaboration Examples
Think about some of the most successful artists in history; chances are whichever genre you’re focusing on, there are examples of collaborations which you may not have even been aware of. Sometimes these are some of an artist’s most well-known songs.
Eric Clapton played the lead guitar solo on The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” off their White Album. Eddie Van Halen played the guitar solo on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” And all of this is to say nothing of the prevalence of supergroups in music: Temple of the Dog, Audioslave, Derek and the Dominos, Them Crooked Vultures, Blind Faith, Sixx:A.M., Mad Season — the list goes on and on. What all of these examples have in common is that they allowed artists to meet new people (sometimes serendipitously) and create new content (sometimes even more serendipitously).
Some of these collaborations resulted in a full touring band and multiple albums (as with Audioslave and Sixx:A.M.) and sometimes it was more an outlet for the artist to simply explore a new vein of their creativity, resulting in a single album and few, if any, tour dates (as with Temple of the Dog, Blind Faith, and Mad Season). Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine what kind of collaboration it should be, and what the end goal is.
If the end goal is to disseminate your name and reputation more amongst a new network, view opportunities to collaborate on articles or podcast episodes as compensation in and of themselves. The prospect of someone opening up their network to you through a co-publication or guest spot is invaluable, especially in a niche industry. Collaborating well on such a project will also tell your contact that you’re reliable and can produce great content for their network. This is the end goal; to get them to invite you back to do it again in the future.
Other times, there may not even be a publication or launch date. It may simply be a project where someone has asked you to give some feedback on their new app or something they’ve written. In this, the goal isn’t to get your name out to their network, but to keep your name in their head. When someone respects you and values your input, they ask for your thoughts on their own content. In this scenario, there is absolutely no downside — say yes, and carve out the time to give them some thoughtful feedback.
When Collaborations Don’t Work
When you’re involved in someone else’s project, let them run the show and suggest feedback where needed and when it’s appropriate. Accept and respect that they may do things differently than you would, and may go in a different direction that you want. If that ends up being the case, simply state whatever feedback you might have in a respectful and reasonable manner, and then let it be. If it’s not your project, there’s no upside to having an argument over the details as if it is.
Some collaborations simply don’t work, either because the idea leads to creative differences or because there’s just no chemistry between the individuals. This is ok. The worst thing you can do in this situation is to burn a bridge with an otherwise reasonable ally. The same dynamic that helps to balance your allies holds true here: until there’s a problem, there’s no problem. If the collaboration isn’t working, simply acknowledge it and move on. Most times, a collaboration that doesn’t work out well isn’t a reason to burn a relationship; it’s simply a sign that collaborating with that person in the future may not be the best move.
When Collaborations Do Work
When collaborations do work, though, they can change your whole universe. This may not — and usually doesn’t — happen overnight. It takes time for new relationship dynamics to gestate and the benefits of those collaborations may not be seen for months or even years. But once you have collaborated with someone on something, two things are indisputably true:
- You’ve now (presumably) had a direct interaction with that person, and
- You’ve now created something together with that person (in this respect, feedback does indeed count as something created, since it helps the overall creation process)
These two things ultimately shift the power balance; where once the relationship might have felt unequal, it is now arguably equal in new ways as a result of the collaboration. This has an elevating effect, bringing you closer to that person, whether they are a VC, podcast host, another founder, etc. Recognize that equalizing effect for what it is.
Ultimately, collaborations should be about relationships and learning. Creating something new and popular is always a plus, but it’s never a given. Keep your mind focused on how the collaboration can strengthen your relationship with your potential collaborators on the grand scale. Similarly, it will impact and shape your reputation among others, especially other potential collaborators. This is what will make the collaboration a success or a failure.